My Dad, the Water Witch

harold kloosterman water witch

Not all witches get the opportunity of going to Hogwart School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to polish their skills. Take my dad for example – a water witch from Newmarket, Canada. Maybe it is because he never made it past grade 8 or because he was never confident enough in his witching powers.

Known as a water witch, waterwitch or dowser, Dad has been able to sense and track underground water sources for as long as he (and I) can remember. That’s the way he found an underground well passing through our background.

He does it by holding a fresh wishbone-shaped branch, preferably from a willow tree, and in doing this with his hands inverted in a certain way, he can “feel” water under his feet. Other water witches he has heard of have been known to hone in on rare metals and in some cases oil.

Now imagine me, with business ideas constantly running through my head, have always been thinking of ways to cash in on Dad’s talent. I have urged Dad to take his “gift” to another level – especially in today’s market, with all the talk about water insecurity in the world and the need for developing clean technology to save the planet from its environmental woes. He always balked at the suggestion, deferring to the more talented among his peers, the ones that could find water and minerals with brass rods. He is using brass rods in the above video. They were gifted by our friends Peter and Raven, and he was demonstrating to me how they work. Normally he uses willow branches, as rods.

About business, he would hear none of my ideas. Instead, he preferred the steady work, long summer holidays (which would be high season for a water witch), and an excellent benefits package at General Motors in Oshawa, where he worked on the line and later in the stock room. (Oshawa is aptly translated to meaning, ‘where the canoe is exchanged for the trail’). Today Dad’s water witching skills have been relegated to neighbourhood cookouts and corn roasts, where they have became nothing more than a neat circus trick.

At least once every summer, someone (sometimes myself for fun), would insist on putting Dad to the test. Ripping a two-pronged branch off the weeping willow to prove them wrong, Dad would agree to have his eyes blind-folded. After inverting the wooden Y – shape away from his body, the central stalk pointing outward, he would pace slowly around the backyard and wait for the familiar cracking noise as the earth, and the buried garden hose planted under it, would draw down the end of his stick like metal to a magnet.

harold kloosterman fishing, water witch dad

Dad was a true Nature Boy. Here he is long ago catching fish off the side of a wild river.

While none of us notice anything unusual in the stick, Dad certainly does: “Honest to God, I can hear the stick cracking in my hand,” he says. “ I don’t think just anybody can do it and I know water witching is not a myth,” he adds, explaining that those in the water witching “know” can dowse with any old objects from coat hangers to crowbars.

Dad discovered he was a water witch when he was a child: “We were looking for a well and I tried and found it,” he says, adding that some people who do it professionally can even estimate how deep the water is based on the tension released by the stick. But, “I don’t believe in witchcraft. Maybe it is something in your body. I can’t hold it back. It just goes down.” If you ask Dad where he gets the talent, he can’t answer. “Karin, why are people brain surgeons? It is just something people do. Ask me why can I move my forehead and ears at the same time? That’s just how it is.”

I have tried on a number of occasions to dowse for water myself, hoping the skill would pass through the genes, but no luck. Says Dad, “I don’t know anyone else in the family who can do it. I don’t even know if I have it now.”

His wife, my mom, has lived with her water witch for 40 years: “I think it is a chemical reaction, something in his body,” she reasons. “There is an explanation for everything. There is even an explanation to being a witch,” she says, noting that witches in the Middle Ages were “just holistic doctors using herbs and plants as remedies. The people who were ignorant called them witches. Your dad’s talent is like knowing when to put hot-pad on someone who has a sore back, and it is the same skill as those who know how to make poultices from plants.”

But why would we need water witches?

Mom has a good answer for this: “God put us on this earth to find water, showed us how to make a hook for fishing and how to make fire for survival. Our bodies are made of chemicals and most of it is water. If you are water then you are going to find your home. Our bodies urge to go back to the water. Just like every year, I need to go to the water up north at the lake.”

And Mom is certain that all of us at one time in history had the water witching skill, but then lost it, in the same way some of us are born without wisdom teeth or an appendix. “Your dad is a kickback to prehistoric times. A down to earth guy,” she teases. “He might have been born with a tail or with four legs, but no. He was born knowing how to find water!”

Anyway says Mom, eager to finish the conversation to go sampling and shopping at Costco, “There is nothing magical about it. There is no mystery to water witching. I have seen blisters on his hands trying to hold the stick back. Being psychic and having other talents is just the ability to see things of this earth. It is a connection to the earth,” she explains, and then jokes slyly, “He could always get a job in the circus if he needs to work.”

I wrote this story 15 years ago when I was working as a freelance journalist. It’s now published in memory of my dad Harold Kloosterman who died in December, 2018. Hard to believe. I miss my witch! The video above was taken July, 2018 before his cancer diagnosis. 

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